On Monday, Oct. 29, the Sustainability Literacy Institute hosted a faculty panel discussion on “Nike’s Strategy, Colin Kaepernick’s Values, and the Politics of Race.” Running from 12:00 p.m. until 1:00 p.m., the panel discussion was a “bring you own lunch” event, where students brought their own lunches to auditorium 118 in the Education Center and listened to three presentations. Dr. Anthony Greene from the Department of African American Studies, Dr. Jennifer Barhorst from the Department of Management and Marketing, and Professor Alexis Carrico from the Department of Management and Marketing all discussed Nike’s Strategy. After their presentations, the floor was open to questions from the audience.
Colin Kaepernick was a former National Football League player with the San Francisco 49’s. He sparked controversy after kneeling for the national anthem in 2016. Kaepernick knelt to protest police brutality and other forms of injustice towards African Americans. Many other athletes followed suit, including Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks, Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos, Arian Foster of the Miami Dolphins and others. Some perceived this act as protesting the national flag, and disrespectful to veterans. The NFL first supported Kaepernick, but then in 2017 no team offered him a contract. This year, Colin Kaepernick was the center of a new advertising campaign from Nike, where the slogan was “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Dr. Greene discussed the historical background of black athletes protesting racism and police brutality. He noted that black athletes have been penalized since the 1960s for giving political opinions and trying to raise awareness for social justice. He argued that companies such as Nike may be creating advertising campaigns with black athletes who are symbols of protest in order to increase profit.
Dr. Barhorst agreed with Dr. Greene’s concerns by discussing the profit motive within Nike for using Colin Kaepernick as the face of their new advertising. Dr. Barhorst added that Nike did not have a good reputation in the past due to scandals about sweatshop and child labor. Dr. Barhorst examined that company wants to improve its image. The company uses data from social media and online communications to see what consumers care about. Therefore, she argued the campaign was not about social justice, but about profit.
The last speaker, Professor Carrico, disagreed with both Dr. Greene and Dr. Barhorst. Carrico worked for Nike for eight years before becoming a professor at College of Charleston. She argued that Nike has a strong dedication to the triple bottom line, a policy maximizing environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and profit. From her time at Nike, she believes that the company supports social justice. Carrico argued that the advertising campaign with Colin Kaepernick fits well with the company’s values, and is thus a show of support for his protest.
The Sustainability Literacy Institute sponsors events at the College of Charleston which discuss sustainability solutions. According to Dr. Todd LeVasseur, an assistant professor, visiting from the Religious Studies and Environmental Sustainability Departments, the Sustainability Literacy Institute finds interdisciplinary solutions in social justice and sustainability.